One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is the continual evolution and innovation that happens in the digital content business. An area of particular interest is engagement and how we must continuously adapt to how consumers use their precious time to interact with our content.
Given that time spent is one of the best engagement metrics, I have found it of particular interest that media companies are starting to annotate approximations of how many minutes a story will take to read, notably on Slate and Medium. This service allows me to quickly skim a headline and decide whether or not I have 4 minutes to devote to the recollections of those who’ve crashed in a plane, 2 minutes to assess the demands of Ferguson protesters, or if I want to dedicate a full 12 minutes to review a gentleman’s guide to rape culture.
This emerging trend suggests an understanding that time is a coveted metric that we should all be focused on. While it might be difficult to put a price tag on time spent consuming media as it relates to one’s overall self- or net-worth, the reality is that there are ever more demands on our attention. Because of this fact, content creators need to ensure that they are providing value to their audiences or risk being perceived a waste of time.
Some sites “optimize for mobile” by shortening headlines and even body copy. I understand the inclination, but have always wondered about the extra work on the content creation end as well as the myriad assumptions about consumer behavior required to implement this approach. Today’s consumer has the opportunity to consume a single piece of content across multiple devices or to consume multiple pieces of content simultaneously on more than one device. This makes optimizing for device, in itself, a nearly mind-boggling conundrum.
On the other hand, the time-transparency tactic, which estimates the proposed attention investment, has a wonderful side effect of indicating that the content provider understands that my time is valuable. I am not suggesting one is better than the other in terms of mobile content consumption (that would be a gross oversimplification). I am simply admiring the amount of effort and innovation that goes into digital content delivery.
Value is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Nor is an attention equation one easily formulated. Without a doubt, understanding your audience is the place to start. And certainly an investment in creating quality content that entertains, informs or provokes discussion is an essential piece of the puzzle. Other factors include optimal delivery medium, context and time; appropriate interactive and rich media enhancements; and social sharing and commenting features.
The constant evolution of media, marketing and technology is what makes it exciting to those of us in the trenches doing the work. Here at the OPA, we work with 60 of the most successful digital content companies in the world and I am lucky enough to have conversations with some of them a few times a week. Our members are at the forefront of digital content’s evolution, which is full of both uncertainty and excitement, And, with efforts like this blog—OPA InContext—and our new Content All Stars event (September 18th in New York City), we have opportunities to share their experiences with all those in the business of content – media companies and those in the advertising, marketing and agency communities who are a vital part of the content ecosystem.
Here’s what I know for sure: The digital landscape continuously reshapes itself under our feet as we chart our path forward. Perhaps that’s why the time-to-read idea is so appealing to me. It puts the content consumer in the driver’s seat so that they can make informed decisions about what they want to spend their time on (and where). I look forward to exploring where we go next.
Want to participate in OPA InContext? Email Michelle.